SALT LAKE CITY — An international team of researchers is using hundreds of sophisticated devices in the high, dry desert in Millard County, hoping to learn more about the universe and specifically the formation of cosmic rays.
Cosmic rays are high-energy particles that travel at nearly the speed of light and hit the Earth from all directions, but finding the source of these particles has proven to be elusive.
Those involved in the Telescope Array Cosmic Ray Project say they're getting closer, however, and they want to expand the project's size to confirm the location of a "hot spot" that may be the possible origin of the highest energy cosmic rays.
Since the project occupies primarily land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency is hosting a pair of public open houses to explain the proposed expansion and identify issues for an upcoming environmental analysis.
Open houses will run 4-7 p.m. Wednesday at the Millard School District's board room, 285 E. 450 North, Delta, and Thursday at Juab High School at 802 N. 650 East, Nephi.
Under the proposed expansion, the project would add 540,800 acres to its study area — four times larger than the original array permitted 11 years ago — and add more equipment.
Those additions include:
• 553 scintillator detectors, or high-energy particle detectors, placed on BLM and school trust lands, as well as lands owned by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to the northeast and southeast of the existing project area.
• Installation of a smaller florescence detector sites and an expansion of two existing sites, each located on school trust lands.
• Installation of 10 new communication towers.
U.S. project participants include the University of Utah and University of Denver, joined by scientists from research institutions in Belgium, China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
The array was first proposed 11 years ago and at present exists entirely within Millard County.
An international collaboration of scientists and experts reviewed Northern Hemisphere sites for array suitability, including Utah, Idaho and some locations in Europe before settling on Millard County.
The area was selected for its flat terrain, low humidity, dark night skies and proximity to the University of Utah — the leading research institution in the arena of high-energy cosmic rays, possessing the world's largest data set.
The study of cosmic ray showers and how they propagate through space before arriving on Earth is expected to assist scientists in their attempts to unravel the evolution of the universe.
While recent studies determined that supernovas are a source of cosmic rays, they're not responsible for all of them.
As studies have evolved over the years, scientists believe cosmic rays are space traveling messengers for mankind.
Project proponents are seeking a 20-year right of way grant from the BLM, with the university planning to have the new phase constructed by March 2019.
Millard County Commission Chairman James Withers predicts there will be some community interest in this latest project proposal.
So far, the specialized equipment is spread out far enough that it has had minimal impact on desert views, he said.
"We are getting just a little bit of pushback about adding more equipment," Withers said. "There is concern if they keep putting more platforms and antennae out there, it ruins the desert experience."
While the project is proposed to increase its footprint boundaries by four times, the actual ground disturbance, the BLM noted, is 21.80 acres — or 0.15 percent of land within the project's perimeter.
The project's expansion also could have potential impacts on economic development opportunities given that the array requires dark skies and few dust disturbances.